Utah substitute has been fired after telling fifth graders that ‘homosexuality is a sin’

(Photo courtesy of Louis van Amstel) Pictured is Josh and Louis van Amstel.

A substitute teacher who told a class of fifth graders in Utah County last month that “homosexuality is a sin” has been fired.

The staffing company that employed the woman announced in a statement Monday morning that after an investigation into her comments — which have received widespread attention — it “made the decision to end the employee’s relationship with Kelly Services.”

The woman was working at the time at Deerfield Elementary School in Alpine School District, which contracts with Kelly Services to hire substitutes. It’s unclear how long she had been teaching there or elsewhere in the state. Neither the district nor the company has identified her.

On Nov. 21, a week before Thanksgiving, the woman was filling in at the school and asked students: “What are you thankful for this year?”

An 11-year-old boy in the class responded, “I’m thankful that I’m finally going to be adopted by my two dads.”

Students later said that the substitute snapped, “Why on earth would you be happy about that?” And for the next 10 minutes she lectured the 30 kids about her own views, how “homosexuality is wrong” and “two men living together is a sin.” She looked at the boy, too, and told him: “That’s nothing to be thankful for.”

She was escorted out of the school after three girls walked out of the room and told the principal.

One of the boy’s dads, Louis van Amstel, posted about the incident on social media after his son told him what happened. He told The Salt Lake Tribune last week that he appreciates the girls stepping up and defending his son, whom he asked to identify only as D.M. because his adoption process is not final until Dec. 19. But he questioned why the woman was in a classroom to begin with.

Previously a dancer on “Dancing with the Stars,” van Amstel said the encounter was discouraging and called out the woman for bullying his son. “It’s absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did,” he said. “We were livid. It’s 2019 and this is a public school.”

He and his husband, Josh van Amstel, said their son has had two failed adoptions before and was worried that he might not be adopted this month because of the substitute’s comments.

“We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate conduct and take these matters very seriously,” Kelly Services reiterated in its statement Monday.

The company — which works with all school districts in Utah County, many throughout the state and thousands nationwide — said the woman will no longer be employed at any of the schools it has contracts with.

There is no statewide database for substitutes who have been fired or reprimanded, said Ben Rasmussen, director of law and professional practices at the Utah State Board of Education. So there’s no easy way for other districts in the state that don’t work with Kelly Services to know who the woman is or to be advised not to hire her.

Creating some kind of centralized oversight system for reporting those concerns has come up in previous legislative sessions, but nothing has passed, Rasmussen added.

“At this point, we don’t have anything,” he said. “Districts just have to check references as best they can.”

Kelly Services also did not comment on its training policies, which have also come under question since the substitute’s comments.

In Utah, there’s little in state code regulating substitute teaching, and there’s no mandatory training required for those pinch-hitting in the classroom.

Individual districts are encouraged to have their own policies. The only statewide mandates are that schools can’t hire teachers as substitutes if they have had their teaching licenses suspended or revoked. In fact, a substitute doesn’t have to have a license at all, though preference should be given to those who do.

The other requirement is that the applicant must pass a background check before being hired.

Alpine School District’s spokesman said last week that Kelly Services has all applicants go through “extensive training” before anyone steps foot in a classroom. The company notes on its website that those lessons include “comprehensive classroom management techniques, information on legal and health issues, teaching strategies, how to be prepared and professional, plus appropriate fill-in activities.” Other “minimum requirements” listed are being able to successfully complete what the company calls “a behavioral interview.”

But it’s unclear if any of that directly deals with diversity or sensitivity.

Kelly Services has contracted with the district since 2011. Those who substitute make $70 a day if they’re unlicensed and $80 if they are.

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